On October 17, 1777, British Lieutenant General John Burgoyne surrendered his army at Saratoga. This force is said to have numbered 5,752 at capitulation, having dwindled during the campaign to just 2,442 British troops, 2,198 German soldiers and 1,100 Canadians (CHS: 1899 pg. 236), along with nearly 600 additional sick and wounded. The Articles of Convention between Burgoyne and American Major General Horatio Gates stipulated,
“A free passage to be granted to the army…to Great Britain, on condition of not serving again in North America during the present contest (Articles of Convention, Article II).”
The Convention designated Boston as the port of embarkation for the British and German troops under Burgoyne’s command, with the Canadians to be repatriated via “the first British Port on Lake George” (Articles of Convention, Article IX).
These terms were extremely favorable to Burgoyne’s surrendered force, known hereafter as the Convention troops, or Convention Army. They did not apply, however, to prisoners captured prior to Burgoyne’s surrender during the Saratoga Campaign. Some captives from these engagements were sent to the Albany jail and later conveyed under escort to other places of confinement.
The Hartford Courant recorded on Tuesday, October 28th, 1777,
“Last Sunday arrived in town 128 prisoners, among whom were several Hessian officers. They were taken at the northward before the capitulations (Stevens: 1897 pg. 143).”
The Journal of Oliver Boardman of Middletown, CT, who was in Captain Blague’s company of Connecticut militia, indicates that he was among those who escorted this group of prisoners, and traces their route of march from Albany to Harford:
Sundy 19th Towards Night, we Picht our Tents on Albany Hill.
Monday 20th I was one of Fifty that was call’d out of the Regmnt to Guard 128 ht Prifners of war
to Hartford…Att Evening we Croft the Ferry & put up at Green Buth…
Tuesdy 21st We March’d from Green Bush, to Canter Hook…
Wednesdy 22nd We march’d from Canter Hook, to Nobletown…
Thirsdy We march’d from Nobletown, to Sheffield…
Friady We March’d from Sheffield to Rockwells about the middle of the Green woods…
Satirday 25th We march’d from Rockwell to Simsbury…
Sundy 26th We march’d from Simsbury, to Hartford & Deliverd 123 Prifners to the Shertf, five of
them Left us on the March (CHS: 1899 pg 232).”
Boardman’s Journal records the passage of these prisoners from Massachusetts into Connecticut on the Greenwoods Road to Colebrook, where Rockwell’s Tavern stood. Colebrook Municipal Historian Robert Grigg confirms in his article “The Facts About Buried Hessian Soldiers in Colebrook” that Boardman’s prisoners stayed by Rockwell’s Tavern. “The Convention Troops in Connecticut”, an article by Mary K. Stevens published in the Connecticut Quarterly (1897), deals mostly with prisoners that were transported through the state in 1777 who were captured prior to the Convention, but mistakenly refers to them as Convention troops.
There may have been other small groups of prisoners from Burgoyne’s Army not covered by the Convention, in addition to those Boardman escorted to Hartford, that came through Connecticut around this time. Grigg makes the assumption that small groups from the Convention Army were likewise escorted through the State from Saratoga to Boston (Grigg pg. 3). The main body of the Convention Army itself, however, appears to have crossed in two divisions from New York through Massachusetts immediately after the surrender at Saratoga, and therefore did not enter Connecticut. Brigadier General John Glover of Massachusetts, who was given charge of escorting the Convention troops to Boston, wrote to George Washington on January 27, 1778:
“I divided them into two divisions, the British by Williamstown and Northampton, the Germans by Kinderhook and Springfield” (AAS: 1877, pg. 58).
Roger Lamb, a noncommissioned officer in the 9th Regiment of Foot, indicates in his 1809 memoir of his service in the American war that he left Saratoga immediately following the surrender, crossing the Connecticut River with the British Troops at Hadley before arriving at Boston in early November (Lamb: 1809 pg 195).
The Specht Journal confirms a route of march for the German troops of the Convention Army that follows a route similar to that taken by Henry Knox during the winter of 1775-1776 through western Massachusetts. This Journal, thought to have been kept for the Brunswick regiment Specht by its Lieutenant and Adjutant Anton Adolph Heinrich Du Roi (brother of August Wilhelm Du Roi “the Elder”), records a route of march through Kinderhook, Claverack, Spencertown and Nobletown (Hillsdale) New York, passing into Massachusetts at Egremont and from there through Great Barrington, Tyringham, Blandford, Westfield, West Springfield, East Springfield, Palmer, Brookfield, and so on to Boston (Specht Journal: 1995, pgs 103-109).
The Convention Army was subsequently quartered on Winter Hill and Prospect Hill in the vicinity of Cambridge during the winter of 1777-1778 (Specht Journal: 1995, pg. 109), although numerous British officers were paroled and General Burgoyne returned to England in the Spring of 1778, leaving Major General Phillips in command. John Adams wrote from Braintree on February 6th, 1778 to fellow member of Congress William Ellery that “I think Burgoines army is snugg enough but they ought to be sent farther from Boston” (HA, 2006). Indeed, the British troops were later removed on April 15th, 1778 from Boston to Rutland, Massachusetts where they encamped on what came to be known as Barrack Hill. The German troops remained at Winter Hill.
American Antiquarian Society (1877); “January 27th, 1778 Letter from John Glover to General George Washington”, in Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society Volumes 70-75, pg. 58, Charles Hamilton: Worcester, Massachusetts
Articles of Convention between Lieutenant-General Burgoyne and Major-General Gates, Saratoga, October 17th, 1777, reprinted electronically at The Patriot Resource, http://www.patriotresource.com/amerrev/documents/saratoga.html
Connecticut Historical Society: “Journal of Oliver Boardman of Middletown, 1777, Burgoyne’s Surrender” Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, Vol. 7 , pgs 223-239, CHS: Hartford, Connecticut.
Grigg, R; "The Facts About Buried Hessians in Colebrook", Colebrook Historical Society, Colebrook, CT
Heritage Americana (2006); “February 6th, 1778 Letter From John Adams to William Ellery”, in Heritage Americana Grand Format Auction Catalog #629, Ivy Press.
Lamb, R (1809); An Original and Authentic Journal Of Occurrences During the Late American War From its Commencement to the Year 1783; Wilkinson & Courtney: Dublin.
The Specht Journal; A Military Journal of the Burgoyne Campaign, Helga B. Doblin, translator, Greenwood Press: Westport, CT , 1995.
Stevens, M.K (1897); “The Convention Troops in Connecticut”, in The Connecticut Quarterly, 2nd Quarter, Vol. III, No. 2., pgs 144-149, Hartford, Connecticut.
Tagebuch eines Burschen von Stabbs-Capitain Friedrich Wilhelm von Geismar vom Hessen-Hanauischen Erbprinz Regiment und Brigade-Major zu Brigadier General von Gall 15 Maerz 1776 – bis 14 Dezember 1778. Photostatische Kopie in Library of Congress Manuscript Division, Facsimilies from German Archives, Box No. 2443, transtated by Lion Miles